A mother and father hurriedly ushered their children towards a minivan as a group of heavily armed men and women, some wearing camouflage, some dressed all in black, and most carrying a variety of firearms, converged on the steps of the capitol on August 30, 2020.
Although white armed militias show up to counter many racial justice protesters, openly carrying firearms, the general (re:white) public still isn’t used to seeing people of color, especially Black people, carrying guns. Many protesters do not normally exercise their second amendment rights.
“I want to make sure I keep myself safe when I’m going out protesting, and also say, hey, I can also express myself the same way that you can. I can speak your language. I can carry guns as well,” said John Sullivan, the organizer of the March on the Capitol protest and the creator of Insurgence USA and the Black Fist Militia.
Sullivan often openly carries when he protests, part of his ongoing efforts to “bring awareness to lawful intent and how the public views Black people.”
As unusual as it is to see armed protesters marching peacefully, especially those demanding an end to violence and government oppression, the real difference on this day was the feeling of the event, or the vibe.
Multiple “militias” marching did not segregate themselves, instead, uniting in solidarity and in a spirit of cooperation, to understand one another and to work toward common goals.
Sean Abundance, of the Utah Constitutional Militia (UCM) said,
“This is beautiful. This is what people all over the country need to do. Got somebody you don’t agree with? Guarantee you, you sit down and talk to them for 20 minutes, you’ll find something, some common ground. That much I can promise you.”
Participants from both sides of the political spectrum spoke about injustice, constitutional obligation, and about their own experiences with government oppression and unfair treatment.
“I want this country to live up to its ideals. I want this to be the land of the free. I want it to be the land of the free for everybody,” stated Josianne Petit, activist, organizer, and founder of Mama and Papa Panthers.
“I want our children to grow up together and not fear each other,” she continued.
Richard Bennett III, another member of Insurgence USA, addressed law enforcement and government officials directly, urging them to apply “every law and rule equally to every individual.”
“Then you will let our light shine,” he said.
A small group believed to be members of the Utah Citizens Alarm, an armed militia who often shows up to various events to intimidate protesters, initially heckled speakers and attempted to disrupt the event.
Individual UCA members with a history of making threats and inciting violence were not allowed to speak, but organizers allowed another member to speak after Petit challenged them at the microphone.
“It’s about time y’all be about something,” she said. “If you have an issue, create your own damn event and speak up there, and we do not troll y’all. But we’re going to be the bigger person and let you have the mic; just understand that this is how we feel about it.”
The UCA member who took the microphone said he doesn’t see any actionable plans from Insurgence organizers.
Sullivan responded, “The fact that you don’t know what our call to actions are and what we want to change through legislation and through police reform shows your lack of education and doing the proper research, because it’s out there. Right on our website.”
The event capped off with a march back to Washington Square, with a continued spirit of cooperation and concern for fellow participants.
Ultimately, attendees came away with exactly what they expected. Those seeking to divide were deaf to the messages, and those seeking to unite found common ground.
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